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How To Feed The Hungry Heart

Zen Cooking

In order to receive the nourishment we desire in relationships, it’s good to learn how to become the cook, how to nourish, provide for and feed others. During retreats the student who is the cook may have to feed fifty people or more, three times a day. The meals must be cooked with great mindfulness and care, with not a drop of food wasted. The meals also must be served at exactly the right moment, when the bell rings out. This cooking itself becomes a deep training in awareness and offering, not only food, but one’s entire self. When one is in this state of being, it is impossible to be hungry or discontent.

Feeding Others: What Do I Offer?

Being the cook means learning how to appreciate the needs of others and being willing to fulfill them, on time. Rather than compulsively focusing upon on our own hunger, we attend to the needs of others. As we do this, a strange thing happens: feeding others, we are fed ourselves. Our own hungry heart becomes full.

We are then able to relish life and people, as they are. Our relationships turn around one hundred and eighty degrees. It no longer becomes a question of what the other is or isn’t giving. It’s a question of what can be offered to him or to her.

Develop Parental Mind

Parental mind, a phrase coined by Uchiyama Roshi, is the state of mind that wants to care for and nourish others. It is the mind of the mother with a newborn child with unconditional regard for the child. It is not a mind which keeps accounts or continually needs to be filled up and attended to. As we live from parental mind there is a never-ending source of nourishment that exists within. No matter who does or does not give to us, we need never feel empty or deprived again.

How To Develop Parental Mind

In order to develop parental mind, we don’t choose one person and reject another. The homeless man on the street is just as precious as our own child. Though this attitude may seem impossible to adopt in the beginning, with time, patience, and steady practice, this kind of mind naturally grows. When you are rejecting someone, stop and notice what’s happening. You are depriving yourself of an opportunity to see something wonderful, and to learn and grow.

Naturally, relationships fluctuate. Sometimes we love someone very much, and then they behave in ways we don’t like and our feelings change. Before long they may even seem like an enemy. Our task, however, is to understand and develop the true nature of friendship, or kindness, unconditional regard.

The More We Attend to the Needs Of Others, the More Complete and Full We Feel.

Practice: Being Nourished in Relationships

  • What kind of food are you taking in your relationship?

  • Is it nourishing for you?

  • Can you digest it?

  • What do you provide for others?

  • Take a look and see.

How May I Serve You?

This is a wonderful practice in and of itself. Simple and powerful it cuts through relationship tangles and focuses on what we’re here for. In the midst of anger, upset, even accusations, simply ask (either in your mind or out loud), “How May I Serve You?”

How can you be a force for healing, light and clarity in the relationship? It will be different for each person and each situation. Now we are developing true generosity of heart.

“Real generosity is the state of mind where one lets the other just be.”


Apples or Pears?

Clea spent all her time wanting to change Arnold. “There’s so much that’s wonderful about him,” she said, “but what I’m hungering for I don’t get. I need more excitement.” Rather than go to another relationship, where she could get the “excitement” she thought she wanted, she stayed with Arnold, feeling dissatisfied.

It was as though Arnold were an apple tree who was giving her fabulous apples, while she was all the time longing for pears. Rather than walk down the street to the pear tree and take one, she railed against this fine apple tree, which could not produce a pear, no matter how hard it tried.

Addicted to Not Getting What We Want

Some of us are simply addicted to not getting what we want and to being dissatisfied. We prefer to rail against the apple tree instead of thanking it for its beautiful apples, and choosing to go and find a pear tree if we need pears. We’ll go to one apple tree after another with the same complaint, begging it to produce pears, making it feel inadequate because it can’t.

You Will Never Turn an Apple Tree into a Pear Tree. Give Up Trying. Allow a Person To Be Who They Are.

Practice: Recognize Each One’s Essential Worth

Thank a person for what they do give you. Recognize and value their essential worth.

If we spend all our time wanting to change the person, rejecting their essential qualities, not wanting or valuing what they give, this is a surefire recipe for misery, for everyone concerned.

Honor and be grateful for that which you receive. Why become bitter spending all your time focusing upon that which the person is not able to provide? If your partner is giving you wonderful apples and you are desperately craving a pear, don’t attack the apples. You are with an apple tree and it’s doing its best. Thank the apple tree for its beautiful apples. If you must have a pear, find a pear tree, walk down the street. It’s right there.

Give Up Searching for Apples on a Pear Tree: Recognize What You Are Receiving and Give Thanks

Notice what some of the apple trees you keep returning to when you’re hungry for pears. What is the outcome?

There are the pear trees in your life? What is it that you hunger for? What nourishes you most? Can you allow yourself to have it? And give thanks?

“The real battle is inner, and is nothing but a battle between the real and ideal man.”


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